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Blinded By The Fight: The MMA Eye Poke Hall Of Shame

eye pokeAn increasingly serious problem in the world of mixed martial arts that is crying to be addressed before the professional career of one of the sport’s top athletes is permanently put on the shelves is the difficulty many fighters seem to be having keeping their fingers out of their opponents’ eye sockets.

While combat athletes have been suffering from accidental eye gouges since the earliest days of physical confrontation, the fact that the illegal and potentially career ending trend seems to be all the rage these days has left me wondering if the majority of the significant cases of eye gouging could truly be chalked up as “just one of those things that happen”.

Athletes have been trying to get an edge in every sport on the face of the earth since competition was a concept. From steroids, to greasing, to figure skaters hiring henchman to take their rivals out at the knees; The question as to whether some of these guys are shoving their digits into the baby blues of their foes intentionally has to be asked.

It doesn’t take a doctor or optometrist to tell me that getting something jammed deep into your eye socket is going to do some damage that will take what is often longer than the five minutes allotted in mixed martial arts event to come back from. Anyone that has had a finger stuck into their eye can attest to it being one of the most painful experiences of their lives, combined with the fact that it’s the type of pain that you often can’t just bounce back from. The blurry vision from being poked in the eye can many times last for great lengths of time, making it painfully clear that a fighter that has suffered fro a serious violation of the eye wouldn’t be back to 100% for some time afterwords.

Are fighters actually studying the eye poke? Now obviously they can’t be going all Three Stooges on their training partners in practice or they wouldn’t have anyone to train with left. No, what I’m asking is; Are guys planning on throwing out that jab open-handed to the blinker and following up with a series of punches before the poor sap has a chance to complain.

While I’d like to hope this is not the case, my common sense tells me otherwise. Is the next trend going to be to grow your fingernails out to Freddy Kruger proportions to inflict maximum damage from a poke to the eyeball? Let us not forget that while MMA is still in it’s growing stages, all one has to do is look at the history of boxing that has been littered with incidents such as cornermen serving up special cocaine laced mixtures of water to their fighters in between rounds, smearing vaseline on gloves to blind opponents, removing the padding from gloves, and a laundry list of other infractions.

While the huge majority of athletes follow by the rules laid down by the sport they chose to compete in, there will always be a small handful of …. cheaters that will look to get an edge regardless of the consequences. Even if those consequences mean leaving a fellow man blinded for the rest of his life if it means adding another victory to their belt.

While none of these following cases may have been intentional, I feel like it’s fair to point out some of the most notable examples of the dreaded eye gouge in recent MMA memory to gauge exactly how significant of a problem it promises be in the future if left unaddressed.

So follow me as we take a journey into the “MMA Eye Poke Hall Of Shame“:

Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson

In a double feature of optical punishment, both Johnson and Koscheck suffered damage to the eye when their UFC 106 welterweight showdown was all said and done. First it was Kos who cried foul after a missed knee from Johnson to the grounded American Kickboxing Academy trained fighter was proceeded by a finger to the eye which forced a halt in the contest. Then it was Koscheck’s turn to return the favor…. twice. According to Johnson’s head trainer Cung Le in a recent conversation with FiveOuncesofPain, it were those two pokes in the eye that may have played a vital hand in changing the momentum of the bout.

“Unfortunately there were a few things like Johnson getting a little overexcited with that knee, and Koscheck not closing his hand when he threw a jab,” explained the former Strikeforce champion in regards to the bout between AJ and Kos. “I think that he just got caught in the eye and the whole momentum changed. It is what it is, you know.”

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Mustapha Al-Turk AND Josh Barnett

The saying goes, “Right kick: Hospital, Left kick: Cemetery”, but you can throw in “Index fingers: Optometrist” following Mirko’s most recent use of the finger to the eye technique commonly associated with the Chinese fighting art, Wing Chun. The ending of the bout with Al-Turk came after a poke to both eyes of Mustapha had the seasoned Brit fighter running for cover. Cover which he never found as Cro Cop finished him off with strikes after the foul went unnoticed by referee Dan Miragliotta.

No stranger to pulling out victories following the placement of his fingers into the eyes of his victims, Filipovic also got away with a fight ending eye poke in his September, 2006 Pride Final Conflict Absolute showdown with Josh Barnett. The end to the pair’s third meeting came late into the first round when Barnett submitted after a foul to the eye was followed up with a series of strikes.

B.J. Penn vs. Kenny Florian AND Matt Hughes

Kenny Florian’s brother, Keith Florian, described Penn’s penchant for the eye poke in a conversation with FightHype.com, stating, “There are a lot of things that happened during the [UFC 101] fight that you may or you may not have seen. Kenny got poked in the eye, which BJ is notorious for. He did it against Matt Hughes twice in one fight and once in their first fight. He did it against Georges St. Pierre in both fights. He was hitting behind the head all of the time. Kenny won’t say this, but I certainly will.”

Kevin Burns vs. Anthony Johnson

In one of the most blatant abuses of the foul, Burns went on record with Joe Rogan immediately following his third round “TKO” over Johnson in the pair’s first meeting, stating that his hand was injured and he knew full well he wouldn’t be able to close his fist during the bout. Furthermore, Burns holds the dubious distinction of being the few men in sanctioned mixed martial arts to actually hold a TKO victory via eye poke on his record.

Robbie Lawler vs. Scott Smith I.

Lawler vs. Smith is a perfect example of what should happen in many of the eye gouge cases that are wrongfully permitted to continue. This is one of the few cases where the fight was actually brought to a screeching halt due to the foul after Lawler’s fingers sunk deep into the inner regions of Smith’s headlights in the third round of what had been an exciting give and take battle.

Dan Henderson vs. Rich Franklin

Franklin suffered some extensive damage to his eye after an poke in the eye from Dan Henderson during the pair’s UFC 93 meeting in January of this year. The former UFC middleweight champion wound up on the losing end of a split decision after the damage from the gouge had been done.

Chuck Liddell vs. Everyone

Synonymous with the infamous MMA eye gouge of doom, “The Iceman” has perfected the art of making pokes to the eyes work for you at the highest level of the game. Liddell has stuck his fingers into the binoculars of fighters such as Randy Couture , Tito Ortiz and Vernon White during the course of his career, with the latter of the two being finished on the immediate heels of the foul.

White actually had some extremely interesting comments in regards to his UFC 49 clash with Liddell in a conversation with 5 Oz. where he claimed it was actually Chuck’s fingers, and not his fist that brought a short ending to their bout.

“There are some guys in the sport that have a way of punching with their fingers not all the way open, but they leave their knuckles extended so the knuckle can go right in the eye, which can cause severe damage,” explained the Lion’s Den trained fighter. “As far as I’m concerned, you need to close your fists and fight like a man. I don’t have anything against Chuck, he’s doing what he needs to do to win, but sooner or later someone’s going to do it to them, and then they’ll realize what it feels like. My eye took 38,000 dollars to fix. Maybe they’re waiting until someone gets their eye taken completely out.”

Dan Miragliotta vs. Heath Herring’s eyeball

In this edition of Five Ounces’ Believe It Or Not; Did you know that referee Dan Miragliotta somehow managed to shove his finger in Heath Herring’s eye just prior to his one sided loss at the hands of Brock Lesnar? The unfortunately embarrassing incident actually occurred as Heath and Brock were brought together in the pre-fight instructions. Dan pokes Herring in the eye by mistake and “The Texas Crazy Horse” gives the longtime referee a look like he had just kissed him on the lips. Now I’m not blaming Miragliotta for what ended up happening to Herring at the hands of Lesnar during their UFC 87 meeting, but as fate would have it, the poked eye was quickly shattered by Brock in the opening moments of the bout. It was all downhill from there. Nice one Dan.

So what’s the solution you ask? I’ll point firmly in the direction of the Pride Fighting Championships (R.I.P., sniff, sniff) as to my inspiration for the quick fix in regards to the growing menace that is the eye gouge.

First off, let’s institute a yellow card program where fighters are immediately deducted a percentage of their purse if the foul is ruled severe enough to warrant the penalty. When you start talking about ten or twenty percent being docked from the paychecks of certain fighters, you’re talking about serious money. Serious enough money to give a fighter looking for an edge enough reason to play fair. Serious enough money to give a fighter not looking for an edge a reason to be a little extra careful in areas he should already be careful with; such as groin strikes and eye gouges for example.

Second off, what was wrong with the PRIDE gloves? It’s the design I’m referring to specifically. The PRIDE variation of MMA gloves featured a loose thumb, but all of the other fingers were not only connected, but padded all the way up to the top.

In my opinion there’s not a good enough reason to keep all of the fingers separated as they are right now. In PRIDE, submission artists such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira had no problem pulling off a slew of submissions, and strikers such as Wanderlei Silva had no problem utilizing their clinch to the fullest.

Whether my recommendations are a glimpse into the solution of the problem or not, the fact of the matter that eye gouges will continue to be a problem within the sport until a career is ruined is an inevitability unless something is done to correct the sight threatening menace that refuses to be swept under the carpet.

15 COMMENTS
  • Dufresne says:

    During the last UFC Joe Rogan was asking if there wasn’t a better design out there for MMA gloves, and I had somehow (shamefully) forgotten about the PRIDE gloves all together.

    The eye poke is a huge problem in MMA, and as far as the list of point deduction penalties, it ranks up at the very top with kicks to the head of a downed opponent as far as risk of permanent damage is concerned. The speed and power that most MMA fighters are throwing their strikes at could easily cause permanent damage to the eye up to and including blindness.

    Many fighters that are victims of an eye poke, suspect or not, are often very quick to jump back into the fight before they’ve had sufficient time to fully recuperate a la Johnson. Often with losing results.

    Some fighting styles are more prone to causing accidental eye pokes or gouges by the way the fighter holds his hands when delivering a strike, and while accidental, it still could be career ending. And as far as the theme of this article goes, it does appear that many more fights are featuring eye gouges and in some cases multiple offenses.

    Somehow it needs to be stopped whether it is a change in equipment or a change in rules/penalties before as Vernon White said, someone loses an eye completely.

    Well-Done. Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  • I’m kinda stoked to be the first one to post on this. First of all OUTSTANDING read, humorous and oh so true.
    And while Randy Couture does claim to have Chuck thumbed him in the eye during a flurry. Vernon White’s orbital socket BROKE. I dont think Chuck has quite that rock climbing jazz pianist finger strength to break a man’s orbital socket. After Tito’s big bitchfest the other night I dont believe any fouls he cries. Personally I think he just wants to cry along with everyone else. The only difference is some people can just make a statement, he has to whine with them.
    As far as BJ goes he actually isn’t famous for poking the eye he’s famous for punching it. In the first GSP fight he sinks his knuckle squarely into his eye with I guess isn’t a gouge or poke. The Matt Hughes was obvious.
    Great read though. A problem that absolutely must get fixed before it sidelines someone forever.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 12

  • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Weak-Sauce. Thumb up 5 Thumb down 39

  • neijia says:

    I think you’re exactly right, Cory. Ridiculous and unsportsmanlike. No wonder wing chun likes it as a great combat technique. That has no place in the modern sport, though. Pride yellow card with fine and better gloves seems helpful though apparently not foolproof. Some of the eye pokes look like they are deliberately done with the thumb as well. Several egregious examples could also be cited about groin kicks. Screw all that. We fans don’t want to see a dirty match. Yellow card the heck out of their pay. If it costs 38,000 for eye surgery, the yellow card should be a good ways toward that.

    Well-Done. Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  • xtreme_machine says:

    Some very shady shit

    Hopefully guys won’t start doing that open knucle eye poke thing because that sounds really dangerous.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  • xtreme_machine says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Weak-Sauce. Thumb up 4 Thumb down 30

  • Makington says:

    ‘n this edition of Five Ounces’ Believe It Or Not; Did you know that referee Dan Miragliotta somehow managed to shove his finger in Heath Herring’s eye just prior to his one sided loss at the hands of Brock Lesnar? The unfortunately embarrassing incident actually occurred as Heath and Brock were brought together in the pre-fight instructions. Dan pokes Herring in the eye by mistake and “The Texas Crazy Horse” gives the longtime referee a look like he had just kissed him on the lips. Now I’m not blaming Miragliotta for what ended up happening to Herring at the hands of Lesnar during their UFC 87 meeting, but as fate would have it, the poked eye was quickly shattered by Brock in the opening moments of the bout. It was all downhill from there. Nice one Dan’

    One of the most entertaining paragraphs I’ve read in a while. I actually laughed out loud a little when you said he looked at him like he kissed him on the lips. I actually didn’t even notice the Dan eye poke.

    Interesting piece Cory, but aside from your 2 suggestions, there’s about nothing you can do. You need to have your fingers all mobile for the ground, but I like your yellow card system. Doubts if we’ll ever see it, but I think it very well could work. We don’t see eye pokes really all that often, so it’s not like a lot of people would be losing 10-20% of their purse, but it happens in a suspect way enough to warrant this, I believe. I still don’t get how Kos’ eye got poked though. Maybe the other eye, but not the one he was covering.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  • darth_irritable says:

    xtreme_machine: How about putting ruber gloves on the end of the finger tip but with those little bubbles that make it easy to grip wet things

    Xtreme – wouldn’t that just increase the likelihood of a Liddell special ending with someone’s eyeball coming out suction gripped to Chuck’s finger?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 7

  • FightFan313 says:

    xtreme_machine: How about putting ruber gloves on the end of the finger tip but with those little bubbles that make it easy to grip wet things

    As long as the finger is expose I would think even with rubber at the end it will still go in the eye. I can see it helping not to scratch the eye. I don’t get the eye poke. A punch is thrown with a fist. There are a lot of fighters that never poke in the eye. I really think that if it happens it is on purpose. Kos against Johnson for example. In slow mo it sure looked like Josh extended the fingers right into the eye on purpose.

    The pride gloves still have a open ended finger so I don’t see how that would help when the poke is deliberate.

    Great topic. Maybe big fines will get the poking to stop.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  • Dufresne says:

    Makington: I still don’t get how Kos’ eye got poked though. Maybe the other eye, but not the one he was covering.

    Yeah, I’ve watched the fight several times, and the only thing I can think is maybe a finger nail got in his eye for that kind of reaction. It definitely wasn’t a deep poke or a gouge, but a scratched cornea still hurts like hell. My problem isn’t so much that incidence since it seems much more like an accident (granted one that occurred while he was trying to land an illegal knee) but the next shot that Kos threw. He threw a jab and had his fist closed until just before impact when he opened which seems a little suspect to me. I’ve seen plenty of fighters throw an open hand out that resulted in an eye poke or even punches with the thumb partly extended, but I don’t see how you can throw a perfect looking jab 95% of the way just to screw up that last 5% which just happens to be about one minute after you took a finger in the eye yourself. Seems fishy to me.

    Well-Done. Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  • Guthookd says:

    Speaking of eye damage, I saw last night that Scott Junk of TUF 10 has permanent eye damage from his fight with Matt Mitrione. I guess they’re saying that he can’t fight anymore because after they repair it with lazer surgery it will be very weak and prone to tearing again (retina I think).

    Poor dude. What a way to go out.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  • Nick Havok says:

    Great read, Cory!

    I tried to read and respond to this only minutes after you posted it last night…but the Girlfriend got up my ass about me being on this website all the time. So using my better judgement, and avoiding a fight…I smartly logged off.

    I thoroughly enjoyed it though…and I didn’t really realize that Filipovic had caught barnett with a finger in the eye in the finals of the 2006 Pride Open Weight Grand Prix. I always thought he just got punched.

    It’s nice to know otherwise though…and explains why Barnett tapped out so quickly. Like he said, he couldn’t see and didn’t want to get punted.

    So when I went to watch TUF from last night (I always set my DVR to start recording 5 minutes early) I caught the very end of the Unleashed episode. And it just so happened to be Cro Cop vs. Dos Santos.

    It was fitting that Mirko took a punch straight to his eye and that is what ended the fight. Karma is a bitch isn’t it.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  • s00nertp says:

    Cory, this is an AWESOME article, AGAIN!!!

    I forgot completely about the PRIDE gloves. I think that would help a lot, at least try them.

    I never knew such high profile people were eye pokers, nor that it was so rampant.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  • king mah mah says:

    I agree 100% that something needs to be done about all this damn eye poking. If someone is suspected of doing it intentionally then there should be an investigation. If someone is just flat out making a habit of it then they need to be fired!

    Same thing goes for kicking in the nuts! Which I believe is even more dangerous. I’d rather be blind with my nuts intact then the other way around! Blaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  • JollyDV says:

    Maybe they should keep stats on eyepokes like they do for punches thrown, etc. and if you hit a certain number, receive a warning, if you continue you lose so much money for each poke, maybe then the fighter would think more when throwing the jab and keep the fingers closed.

    Cory, loved the ice skating comment.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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